James H. Duncan writing to the St. Paul Pioneer Press in a statement that this newspaper featured as its lead letter of the day one day last week:
I have seen a number of ads and signs regarding the Defense of Marriage Amendment that say that "as a Catholic," they will vote no. I must say that I am confused by this tactic as a Catholic, since this is not a Catholic issue. As a Catholic and an American, if I thought this were only an attempt to codify into law a strictly religious belief, I would be unalterably opposed to it. The U.S. Constitution is very clear on this, and experience throughout the world shows how bad an idea running a country on strictly religious grounds can be.
What this issue is about is a legitimate social issue that crosses all segments of society. It is about the institution of marriage -- a troubled institution, but one that is worth cherishing and saving. Over the centuries, society has, for a number of very good reasons, put marriage in a very special place. Marriage is not simply about two people who love each other. Marriage between a man and a woman has been and continues to be the basis for a stable society that creates life, nurtures that life and is the basis for continuity in society that cannot be obtained any other way than by the union of a man and a woman. Vote however you want, but do not confuse this as a religious issue or a Catholic issue. It affects all of society, despite how some people want to make appear.
Mr. Duncan has written this letter, of course, not primarily to criticize fellow Catholics appealing to their Catholic faith and its moral insights as they make their political choices about the amendment to the Minnesota constitution that will bar gay citizens from exercising the right of civil marriage. He's writing to offer ammunition to his fellow Catholics promoting the amendment. He specifically wants to offer ammunition to Catholics and other faith-based folks who, as they promote the anti-gay marriage amendment, face criticism for trying to force their peculiar religious views on society as a whole.
He seeks to justify the political activism of the religious-right coalition promoting the Minnesota amendment with the following primary insinuation: permitting same-sex couples to marry undermines "real" marriage. A society that permits same-sex marriage weakens its foundations by weakening the most central building block of civilization: marriage. Real marriage. The marriage of a man and a woman. The kind of marriage that has always been there, and has always been foundational to civilization.
As I read Mr. Duncan's letter, I think to myself how much more convincing these insinuations might be, if he would offer solid data from those places in the world that have permitted same-sex marriage--including states like Iowa, New York, and Massachusetts--to demonstrate to his readers precisely how "real" marriage is weakened and undermined by the choice to permit same-sex couples to marry.
But, hang on: I now realize why Mr. Duncan doesn't offer that kind of evidence. He doesn't do so because it doesn't exist! There is absolutely no evidence at all from any area of the world that has permitted same-sex marriage that there is any correlation of any sort between permitting same-sex couples and their families to enjoy all the rights and privileges of other committed couples, and the demise or undermining of "real" marriage.
And so Mr. Duncan's argument ultimately reinforces rather than overturns the very thing it's designed to demonstrate--that the attempt of religious groups to foist a "protect marriage" amendment on the state of Minnesota transcends religious motivations. Mr. Duncan's argument demonstrates loudly and clearly that the main goal of Catholics such as himself and of other members of the religious right as they try to strip gay and lesbian human beings of civil rights is very precisely to impose their peculiar religious views on society at large. In the absence of any empirical evidence whatsoever to support their argument that permitting same-sex marriage undermines "real" marriage . . . .
The main goal of religionists who are promoting legislative action to deny rights to gay citizens, to strip gay citizens of rights, is to dehumanize and attack their fellow citizens who are gay. In the name of God. And to ask for their special right and privilege as religionists to continue the dehumanization of and attacks on a targeted minority because their religious freedom ought to trump the religious freedom of all citizens who disagree with them.
And I suspect that they will succeed at this task in Minnesota due to one primary factor: the choice of the Catholic bishops in this state to turn their church into a partisan anti-gay political machine in 2012. A choice for which the Catholic church in this region will pay an increasingly steep price as the moral arc of history moves in the other direction and leaves such Catholics as remain in subsequent generations the bitter, uncomfortable task of apologizing for the sins of their elders at the dawn of the 21st century . . . .